On Tuesday night, Unbound Live took over Le Baron nightclub in London's Mayfair for an evening of crowd-funded publishing. Billed as “a cross between a book slam and election hustings”, nine authors had 10 minutes each to pitch to an audience who could then pledge anything between £10 and £250 in support of the book. If enough money is pledged the author writes the book and Unbound publishes it. If not, the prospective book stays on the slush pile and pledgers get their money back (or the chance to re-pledge to another book). Pledgers keep up-to-date with their author's progress on the Unbound website.
In a dark boudoir-like room the writers took to the mic in front of about 100 people. We heard pitches, for instance, from Pete Lawrence for his memoir about founding The Big Chill festival, from Kevin Parr for his novel about an obsessive bird-watcher who turns murderous, and from Robbie Hudson and John Finnemore, two comedians who got funding for a first book—a series of letters between two gay horses during the Napoleonic wars—and now want funding for a sequel.
By bringing authors and readers closer together Unbound throws a democratic punch at the big-money publishers who monopolise the book stores. For Unbound, the pledging system is a novel way of drumming up capital before shelling out to publish a book. And pledgers get to be financially and emotionally invested in a literary project. Every pledger gets a nod in the afterword and big investors get signed editions, goodie bags and lunch with the author.
This way, readers get a greater say in what's published, but it may have its drawbacks too. Normally an author's name appears on the front cover, but what counts is what's written inside. Unbound Live turns this on its head. You get to make a judgment on the author's talent before opening the book. When listening to nine authors deliver their spiels at Le Baron, it became obvious that the charismatic ones would be the most successful, whereas the more reclusive ones would struggle to drum up support. Publishers already favour writers who are good at self-promotion, and Unbound may be another example of this trend. A good salesman doesn’t necessarily make a worthwhile writer. And equally, good writers aren’t always natural salesmen.